It’s rare for law firms to hire their top-level leadership from outside the firm’s walls, and just as rare for small firms to bring on professionals to focus solely on the business. But for a small Lancaster, Pennsylvania shop, that is just what it did, looking to the ranks of the nation’s largest law firms to find its next CEO.
Brubaker Connaughton Goss & Lucarelli has made an unusual leadership change for a firm its size, bringing on a CEO from outside the firm, who is not a practicing lawyer, to focus on firm strategy.
New CEO Steven Mauro went to law school, but has spent his career since then leading firm operations in several Big Law C-suites. Most recently, he was the COO at Fisher & Phillips in Atlanta, and before that, he had the same role at Drinker Biddle & Reath.
Mauro will not be practicing law at 14-lawyer Brubaker Connaughton either, as he takes on responsibility for the firm’s strategic planning and day-to-day leadership of the business.
“The opportunities that were coming our way required 100 percent of our time as lawyers … and the time we were spending on client matters was distracting from our ability to develop our strategic needs,” partner Rory Connaughton said. “We had come to a point where we didn’t know all there was to be known, and somebody with a skill set like Steve’s would allow us to avoid the pitfalls of so many firms like ours.”
Mauro said he plans to conduct an in-depth analysis of the firm’s market position and most promising opportunities. That will include bringing in outside consultants and “an exhaustive write-up of the strategy” to guide execution.
“We really do want our strategic planning process to be like those that are followed in corporate [settings] as opposed to those that are typically followed at law firms,” he said.
Brubaker Connaughton launched six years ago, with the majority of its partners coming from Hartman Underhill & Brubaker—once one of the largest firms in Lancaster County before it dissolved in 2015. The aim was to establish a full-service business services law firm, Connaughton said. Many of Brubaker Connaughton’s clients are closely held business entities controlled by “an entrepreneurial owner or group,” Mauro said.
Now, the firm is looking to continue its growth, both in terms of head count and the practice areas it serves. Mauro said he was attracted to the firm by its vision for the future, and by the fact that it was seeking a strategic leader. Had it just been another COO listing, Mauro said, he wouldn’t have considered it.
“As an industry insider, I knew immediately how different that was” for a small firm to seek a business-minded CEO, Mauro said. “The opportunity to really do some entrepreneurial, creative things that … are unlikely to be pursued by other law firms” was attractive.
While several firms have made headlines by hiring CEOs who are not practicing lawyers, it’s still not a common practice, especially among midsize and small firms.
Husch Blackwell made Paul Eberle its CEO in February, promoting him from deputy CEO. Eberle had previously served as the CEO of 150-lawyer Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek, which was acquired by Husch Blackwell in 2016.
Pepper Hamilton appointed Scott Green, who does not have a law degree, to its CEO position in 2012. Green continued in that position until 2015, when he became Hogan Lovells’ global chief operating and financial officer. Pepper Hamilton is now led by a chairman, managing partner and executive committee, with several C-level administrative positions.